On this week's Industrial Talk we're onsite at Distributech 22 and talking to Robert “Rob” Wilhite, Senior Vice President at Black and Veatch about “Distributed Energy – what is it and how will it benefit the energy consumer”. Get the answers to your “Distributed Energy” questions along with Rob's unique insight on the “How” on this Industrial Talk interview!
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Company Website: https://www.bv.com/
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Hey industrial Talk is brought to you by CAP logistics. You want to minimize downtime. Absolutely. increase reliability, you bet ensure operational profitability. Yes you do. That means you need 24/7 365 insights into your supply chain, look no further cap logistics, go to cap logistics.com Or just call them. They're great people 800-227-2471 Also, AiDash. AiDash is on a mission to create a greener, cleaner, safer planet from space. AiDash helps core industries become more resilient, efficient, and sustainable through the power of satellites and AI. Go out to AiDash.com Find out more. All right, Greetings, and welcome to industrial talk. Thank you very much for joining the number one industrial related podcast in the universe. And we were on site at distributech, Dallas, Texas, and we had the opportunity to talk to a gentleman by the name of Robert Wilhite, He is the Senior Vice President at Black and Veatch. And we are talking utilities, we are talking distributed energy. We are talking smart grids, we are talking everything that is associated with utilities. So let's get cracking.
Good conference. Oh, this is great. Isn't it great to get back to, you know, things to see things God, it's like I'm seeing people I haven't seen in three years. No, it's just have you know, handshakes. It's all hugs. Yeah, that's right. It's the one thing that the the virus has done is create a collaborative environment. Right. I want to collaborate. I don't want to do this alone. I need to work with people. Have you come in contact with people that you just met? Virtually? Yet? Yes. Isn't that just fun? And it's great, because they could be tall. They could be short. You don't look that way on a team meeting? No. Contact recoupling. Just man, you are a tall drink of water. Got it? That's not how you look on a, you know, on the team thing. Exactly. All right. For the listeners out there. Rob, give us a little background on who you are and why you're such an incredible, we'll get you your big wig. You're a senior vice president. I am your big your I don't know about the big part. But
wig. It means I've been around a while. Yes. In fact, this is my 37th year in the energy engine Street. It's mostly utilities, power gas, work a little bit on the water side as well. And this is the only industry I've ever known. I've never worked outside of utilities. And so I started my career working for a utility actually. FPL. So
Power and Light. Yeah. And enjoyed it immensely. Just wanted to leave South Florida and start something else. And I've been on the management consulting side of this industry for 26 years now.
You've seen a lot of changes I have, especially in the last five years, isn't that the velocity just sort of wild in the technology and innovation space. It's like, oh my gosh, I don't like keep up it's a tiger by the tail velocity is accelerating big time in these these use cases. It's like, hey, if I do use this, and with this, then I gotta create a new solution. It's a different use case. And then people like me, I can't keep up with it. Because I'm not as sharp as some people. Well, I mean, there's so many new entrants into this industry, there's a lot of new capital coming in a lot of innovation. Now we've got federal stimulus dollars that are gonna flow into the market and accelerate things even greater. So I, I'm excited for it. You know, it's probably going to be rapidly changing over the next five years. And at that point, I've got to decide is that is that the right time to turn it over to the next generation? Right, you're gonna you're gonna have a hard time because that's when it gets really fun. And I just think that I want to be younger and I want to be I mean, this is just fun stuff. incredible innovation and, and a real desire to collaborate. I just, I get a kick out of that. Normally, in the past pre pandemic, it was like, this is our secret sauce. But now it's like I got to work with people. So you're Are you speaking at this event? I am going to be talking about something called the grid edge.
And just FYI, you know, there's edge thin edge, distant edge.
In this now this is a new one grid edge, go for it grid edge. It's the combination of hardware software business models, to enable customers to participate with utilities as collaboration to your point earlier Scott, to be able to interconnect things like battery
is solar, and make all of this stuff automated, and decentralized and put a lot of intelligence at the edges of the grid to make all of this seamless and automatic.
Because there's a lot of capacity out there, there's the increase in batteries, whatever else, you get these distributed the sources.
one of the challenges that I see is, is how do you make that how do you make that happen? Give us a use case, it's like, okay, you, you have an Eevee, right? Yes, I do. And you plug it in. And you're just to plug it in, there's more that can be done there. Right? Today, it's simply just charges until it reaches the capacity that I've said on the app, and then it stops, it does nothing else. But you know, I, while I'm here with you in Dallas to go see, my car is back home in my garage and doing nothing. It's just sitting there. So if I had the opportunity, if my utility offered the right compensation, I would sell energy back to the utility if they needed it, especially during the peak times of the day when it's worth more to them.
But But that can also be not just at your house, it could be pretty much anywhere you go to work. Blog, exactly, boom, same sort of scenario. But that that's, that's a technology solution, that that is dynamic that does that technology cannot exist, it does exist already today, I think it's mostly just a software solution more than anything, it's, it's being able to have the the software in the car, the software on the utility side, in some type of hardware controller in the garage that takes care of this back and forth flow. And you can send it pricing signals. In other words, if the utility can communicate to a controller that is mounted in my garage, then they have the ability to send me warnings, I can hopefully pop it up on an app, make a conscious decision on whether I want to participate or not, you know, offer me more money, and I'll bid it even higher. So this is an interesting, you know, my my knowledge of the utility, because I've got a system operator, I've got generation, I've got transmission, I got distribution, I got the substations that all make it work, and then I comes down. And then when I flip the switch on, Oh, good. You're talking about a dynamic ability to be able from a systems operators perspective, supply demand, managing that and be able to communicate pricing, or, Hey, we need we need, we need your battery. And they're not just doing it with one battery, it's it's a batteries, this area, a network of batteries all could be disparate, and, you know, different owners of those batteries even. But if they can bring them together virtually as a utility and dispatch them, you know, in a big chunk, they can get some real benefits and compensation in the wholesale power markets.
See that? Again? The it's a software so yeah, it is because we exist today. Because you're saying, Hey, here's here's a system operator, and they have to have visibility and those that capacity, right have to just say, Yep, there's whatever capacity of that battery, and so on and so forth. And then there's a time on that. Right, right, because it's not just forever, right? There's going to have to be a point where that battery is discharged. And then there's got to be recharged. And then as a system operator, there's no way because I remember when when I went to the system operations in Southern California Edison at the time, that guy was just sitting there looking at supply and demand. It is moving that turbine and he's like is okay, here we go. And it's like manual. Oh, it's not your father's utility? No, it's changed the way. We've got two way power flows. We've got customer owned devices connected to the grid. We've got the threats of manmade and natural disasters. We've got cybersecurity concerns. That's all financially. I mean, all of this is coming into play. And that also, by the way, if the utility wants to collect data off that device out of my battery in the way I use it, then that's private data. Now you got to protect it. So you know, there's all kinds of growing concerns and barriers to really building the grid edge to scale. But these are resolvable, we can fix these. So with that said, What do you see? I mean,
this is not pie in the sky. Is it happening today? It's happening in small pilots and limited rollouts. And it you know, there are attempts to make this work effectively with the right business model. I think for the most part, we're still trying to figure out the business model. We have the hardware and software. I think that that part is already available to us today. But then how do you set this up as a business
As a utility that wants to compensate owners of these energy assets, that's something that has not scaled. Yeah, yet, there is a possibility it could start to take off soon, there's something called the FERC. Order 2222. Two By Four is affectionately called. And that's setting up the rules in the wholesale markets to aggregate just what we just described aggregate these assets, and to be able to make sure that compensation is fair to the owners of the assets, the energy assets. So here's the risk that I because the because I'm a consumer of power. I want that power to be there. Now, a lot of come on home, do flip the switch, there it is. I'm pretty simple when it comes to that.
I believe the risk is if we don't do it right, the first time, consumers will say, Get out of here. I don't want it. I don't want to forego my comfort
for this. So you guys gotta get this right. Oh, yeah, absolutely. You only get one or two chances. And I'm telling you right now, I would be the first one to jettison, if I look, we've got all this equipment, right. It's all here. It's all it's just equipment galore. And it's very sensitive. It wants good quality, power, and data. And it doesn't do well, when and that's just everybody. You look around. And it's everybody. Yeah, you don't get many bytes out there. So there's, that's the reliability aspect. Yeah. Now we got to talk about resiliency in the power system. Yeah. How quickly can recover after a major event? Whether it's a storm, or wildfires and droughts or whatever it may be, you know, how do we harden our system to withstand these threats to begin with, but also recover more rapidly after they occur?
You're hitting on all cylinders, because that's, if you've ever been in a hurricane, and your power's out for 10 days in the middle of the summer, it's not fun. Well, and it's not simple to fix it. You know, a lot of folks think that, well, let's just bury all the power lines, not to say from a hurricane. No, because you have equipment that comes out of the ground to join that underground cable together and operate it and switch it. That stuff gets flooded, and it's ruined. It doesn't work anymore. No, it
so there's no easy fix. There is a van and it has like your you got your fingers on the poles, but it's gonna happen as more and more vehicles or as more and more all of these different forms of generation get attached, that there's a potential there's capacity. Somebody will make. I'm looking forward and I think it's like neighborhoods having their own generation. Yes, absolutely. And what I really like and fired by is commercial customers today are, are making pledges when it comes to sustainability or decarbonisation of their supply chains. So they're taking matters into their own hands. They're, they're building on site generation, they're putting solar on their rooftops, they're putting batteries next to that solar, we have one client who's a nationwide financial institution with 1000s of branches. If we put solar on their roof, they want to attach a battery. And then they can measure how much solar PV energy they're generating right there on the spot. They run that through a blockchain based software.
I knew I'd get the blockchain word Yeah, I was just gonna say I'm gay. There's another conversation. And then once it goes through the blockchain, and they can calculate hourly renewable energy credits in real time. Yeah, I mean, nobody's doing this. This is this innovation is coming from the commercial customers directly. So he used to long ago, we had a solar plant out in a Daggett, California. And the challenge is always how do you how do you store that energy, they would use molten salt. So
like, you slap it up there, and then they would flash, you know, the water, turbine, all of that stuff that can adapt. But that's how, nowadays you got the battery, you got batteries, you've got a big focus now on long duration energy store. Yeah. So if you can get 12 hours plus, out of a battery, whatever form of chemistry is built up in that battery, the more that it's going to have greater value for you, especially going back to resilience. A commercial business that wants to stay in operation during a major event is going to want 12 hours plus battery duration. So that begs the question, I'm gonna sort of go off on a tangent real quick.
Battery technology is getting better at it.
And cheaper, so that's good. trending in the right direction. What is the the expectation for battery life? For many of us? Yeah, that's that's the, that's the big question we get asked often, which is to lithium ion technology, for instance, is how, how much degradation per year will you see in the battery over a 10 year period for it 15 That's too far out. But just let's do
Just take a 10 year period for the life of that battery, we have to today understand how much degradation so that we can guarantee what capacity at battery can supply in year 10. And there's no easy way to do this. These are estimates we don't have enough of these batteries out there to truly know. We're alerting er, and it's just but the right people are in the right places, people like you and others and are making these decisions and looking at it, understanding the challenges that exist today, creating valuable use cases, on and on and on. So it makes complete sense. All right, we're gonna have to wrap it up, sadly, but we're gonna have to, how does somebody get a hold of you? I can be reached at Wilhite, email@example.com wi l h i t e r t. RT at BV BV com
look forward to comments and letters go. I'd love to hear some innovative ideas. That's just your I see you're not gonna retire because it's just gonna get better and better. It's faster and faster and more people are coming out with more solutions. It's pretty doggone cool. Oh, it's fun. It's awesome sauce. Thank you very much for being on industrial. Appreciate it very much. All right, listeners. We're gonna wrap it up on the other side. All Rob's contact information will be available at industrial talk. So don't worry, you'll have it. So just go out there. You'll find it you'll you will not be disappointed with Rob. He's pretty cool.
Awesome. That's where all the cool kids hang out. It is here on industrial talk. I haven't been called cool in a long time. Cool kid. Cool. All right listeners. We're gonna wrap it up on this site. So stay tuned we will be right back.
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right once again, thank you very very much for joining industrial talk. If you want to hang out with cool kids like Rob Wilhite, then go out to industrial talk.com Be a part of the club, this ever expanding industrial ecosystem that really celebrates industry professionals like yourself. Thank you to Rob, thank you for the opportunity to talk to him and discuss what changes are happening within the utility world. It's monumental, it is mind blowing in my background utilities. Definitely mind blowing. Thank you very much, Rob, for being on industrial talk and sharing your insights with all the best listeners that industry has to offer right here on industrial talk. All right. You need to one educate. That's why industrial talk is here. That's why we highlight people like Rob you need to collaborate. That's why industrial talk is here. And that's why we highlight Rob because he wants to collaborate. Black and Veatch want to collaborate with you solving your problems? And definitely, definitely, you need to innovate. If you want to build a business that is resilient, you need to be in the game, and you need to innovate. That's why industrial talk is here. Because we want to educate, we want to collaborate and definitely we want to innovate. So go out to industrial talk. Talk to me. Meet yo right here. And we'll have I mean, we'll have a great conversation. All right. Be bold, be brave, daring, greatly hanging out with people like Rob and you're going to change the world. Let's have another great conversation shortly. So stay tuned.